Transforming Conflict

April 28, 2024

Too often conflict is due to an inability to remain open and to rethink our position. This is true in both our personal and our professional lives. And conflict can escalate when it’s based on an intractable position that prevents resolution.

Perhaps we should adopt what Stanford professor and technology forecaster Paul Saffo calls, strong positions weakly held. With this mindset we can confidently assert our opinion while remaining open and influenceable—not to eliminate conflict but to help transform it.

Strong opinions weakly held is about taking a stand based on your knowledge and experience, however, when new information comes along, you can remain flexible to adjusting your position as necessary.

“Instead of trying to resolve conflict and reach agreement, can we aim for something more realistic and more sustainable than resolution?” asks William Ury, author of Possible: How we survive (and thrive) in an age of conflict. “What if we were to focus on transforming conflict?”

This is about changing the form of conflict from destructive fighting into productive conflict and constructive negotiation.

“The more we react to conflict, the bigger conflict grows,” writes Ury. “Conflicts turn destructive because each side reacts in an escalating back-and-forth that all too often ends with everyone losing.”

Interests versus Positions

“In the language of negotiation, to zoom in means to focus on the interests that lie underneath our positions,”writes Ury. “Positions are the things we say we want. Interests are our underlying motivations—our desires, aspirations, concerns, fears, and needs. Whereas positions are what we say we want, interests are why we want what we want.”

What if we were to inquire beyond positions and into interests? By seeking to understand the interests, you are better able to move from stuck to unstuck.

Braver Angels

This reminds me of the work Braver Angels is doing to bring Americans together by bridging the political divide and strengthen our democratic republic. Founded directly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Braver Angels focuses on facilitating workshops to help individuals fully listening to those with a different position to better understand.

The goal of Braver Angels is not to change minds, but to better appreciate our differences and help ensure the American Experiment survives and thrives.

With 100 alliances spread across Red and Blue states with more than 33,000 participants equally representing those who identify as Republican and Democrat, Braver Angels seeks to engage people in a dialogue based on commonality rather than division. It’s meant to get beyond mere positions to better appreciate and respect each other’s interests.

Transforming conflict requires reminding us of our compatible needs instead of focusing on our opposing positions. This means viewing conflict as an opportunity to strengthen the commonality rather than the differences between us. It requires working together cooperatively rather than competitively. If we are able to do this, we are more likely to ensure that we can move forward together and tackle our most challenging problems.

Leadership and Legacy

March 12, 2024

When you are at the mid-point or nearing the end of your career, how can you fully embrace where you are, your gifts and value to others, and how can you leverage who you are with how you live going forward? What is the legacy of your leadership?

This is about embracing your lived experience and bringing it into the workplace. Find ways to emphasize the value of your wisdom rather than hide your lack of youth. Offer communication expertise by actively listening to others, which is ultimately much more important and valuable than talking. Demonstrate that you are focused on serving others.  

Psychiatrist and talk-show host David Viscott writes, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

When you reach a certain stage in life, it’s time to begin giving your gift away by shifting from an internal focus to an external focus.

Waiting to make this shift until just before you retire is too late as great leadership requires being less focused on you and more on others. To be a great leader is to serve others and the sooner you start doing this, the better for you and your organization.

Author David Brooks writes about the difference between what he calls resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are based on what you’ve done and are capable of doing as a professional. Eulogy virtues are what will be said about you at your funeral—based more on your character and who you were as a person.

According to Chip Conley, author of Learning to Love Midlife, the first half of life is often defined by the following mindsets:

  • I am what I do (achievement)
  • I am what others say about me (image)
  • I am what I have (status)
  • I am what I control (power)

This focus is all about the self and the ego. Early in one’s career this can be very beneficial as this provides the direction necessary to succeed. However, this ego focus needs to transition at midlife and beyond as this mindset is not sustainable.

“A number of recent studies show that general skills, especially soft skills that revolve around emotional intelligence are more durable than technical ones,” writes Conley. “So your greatest gifts may lie in the social skills that you’ve developed over a few decades in the workplace—the kinds of skills that can be learned and lived, but not taught. As a ‘modern elder,’ you have great value in the ‘invisible productivity’ you offer: the ability to not just be productive yourself, but to raise the productivity of your mentees and teams.”

As you reach midlife and into the later stage of your career, it’s a good time to adjust your mindset to one that is more in line with the legacy you wish to leave behind. Ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing today aligned with who I am and how I want others to see me?
  • What will be my purpose when I retire or shift to an encore career?
  • How do I want to be remembered by the people I care most about?
  • What is the reputation I have now and how will that remain or shift once I’m gone?

These are important concerns that shouldn’t wait until you retire as they help define how you show up as a leader today. Thinking long term is vital to leading your team or organization. And thinking long term is also important to how you lead yourself throughout the transitions in your life.

Really Knowing Others at Work

February 27, 2024

The ability to deeply see other people is important to develop and sustain relationships. This is beneficial in your personal life in order to live a long and happy one, but it is also important in the workplace if you want to successfully collaborate and lead others.

A vast amount of research has determined that the secret to a long, healthy, and happy life has to do with the quality of our relationships. This has been found to be more important than diet, exercise, genetics, wealth, education, and other factors.

Perhaps most famously, the Grant Study—a longitudinal study begun in 1938 that followed 268 Harvard sophomores—found that close relationships and social connections are crucial for our well-being as we age. That’s because supportive relationships help us cope with stress and protects our overall health. This finding proved true across the board not only among men in the Harvard study, but also participants studied from the inner-city.

In the workplace we may diminish the importance of how we relate to each other. Some may think it should only be about the work and that if we simply focus on the task at hand, the messiness of people won’t complicate matters. The problem with this perspective is that we are all emotional human beings and cannot simply show up as logic-minded, “Spock-like” characters in the workplace.

David Brooks, author of How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, says this ability to really know another person is all too rare.

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society,” writes Brooks. “The ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

Brooks goes on to describe some people as Diminishers, who make others feel small and unseen; things to be used, not as persons to be befriended. Diminishers use stereotypes and ignore other people because they are so involved with themselves. Qualities of these Diminishers include egotism, anxiety, objectivism, and a static mindset.

On the other hand, Brooks highlights Illuminators as those with a persistent curiosity about others, knowing what to look for and how to ask the right questions at the right time. “They shine the brightness of their care on people and make them feel bigger, deeper, respected, lit up.” The qualities of Illuminators include tenderness, receptivity, active curiosity, affection, and generosity.

Do you recognize Diminishers or Illuminators in your workplace? If you’re fortunate, you work for an Illuminator who really sees you and supports your growth. They are the ones you should strive to work for and follow.

Diminishers are those who may be holding you back from being your best self at work. They are more interested in themselves than those around them. These people may be in leadership positions, but they are not true leaders. You should shun Diminishers whenever possible.

What about you? Do you show up in work relationships in a curious, attentive, and empathetic manner or do you show up in a manner that is more transactional, competitive, and self-focused?

True collaboration and teamwork require more of the Illuminator qualities. And leaders who embrace these qualities are more likely to build solid teams and organizations that are based on psychological safety, trust, rapport, and productivity.

Until artificial intelligence replaces us in the workplace, we will need to get along by recognizing our own emotions and those of the people we interact with. This requires elements of emotional intelligence to really know others in a way that helps them feel seen and to help others to really see ourselves. Seek to be an Illuminator in all your relationships so that you live a long and happy life, and you are more effective in the workplace.

Leadership: Decisive or Divisive?

February 15, 2024

Among the many important traits of the best leaders include motivating people toward achieving a common goal, continually delivering results, and making tough decisions with incomplete information. Being decisive rather than divisive.

The decisive leader is one who can determine the best course of action when no perfect solution is readily available. They decide what to do when complete information is unavailable. They accept that a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment is difficult to navigate yet courageously lean in and move forward.

A decisive leader demonstrates confidence in their ability to make a choice while acknowledging it may prove to be wrong with the passage of time and/or more information. It means accepting that not making a decision can be worse than making the wrong decision.

Divisive leaders, on the other hand, are those who often create chaos, which can lead to polarization and instability. They may build silos, withhold resources or information, and generally compete with coworkers in order to consolidate power or influence. These are leaders in name only.

The divisive leader is one who can easily point out the problems and assign blame but fail to offer help formulate solutions. They move people away rather than bring them together.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 Leaders are those who look out the window when things are going well and into the mirror when things are going wrong: Looking out the window to give credit to others and looking in the mirror to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. Divisive leaders may very well do the opposite.

Clearly, there are many examples of divisive leaders in both our businesses and our politics. Why they are successful could be that they’re personality, bravado, or deceit is able to mask their true nature. Narcissism can show up as confidence. Boisterous can be perceived as bold. Denials may be seen as persistence or never backing down.

Though it may be difficult to determine which leaders are divisive, once you know, it’s important to get away from them. They might be successful in the short term, but divisive leaders won’t be for long if we refuse to follow or support them. This takes courage to accept that perhaps you made a mistake in working for or voting for them in the first place.  

We live at a very divisive time and this is causing real harm to our workplaces and our country. Perhaps the best way to reduce the divisions is to ensure our own behavior doesn’t contribute to this divisiveness.

Think twice before you tweet, retweet, like, or share something on social media and determine whether it’s contributing to the problem or not. Before you speak ill of someone, ask yourself if this is going to be helpful. When others make a disparaging comment about another person, defend that person if you think the comment is unfair.

Choose to be a decisive leader who is able to make hard decisions with incomplete information. Be courageous in accepting that VUCA is the new normal and therefore you often don’t have the luxury of delaying exactly how to best move forward. And refrain from following divisive leadership, wherever you find it.

Listeners Lead Proactive Teams

December 26, 2023

A leader is someone who commands attention, has all the answers, and motivates people to accomplish a specific goal. The best leaders also share leadership, ask important questions, and actively listen to others.

More often than not, when we think of an effective leader, we also think of an extrovert. But this does not mean introverts can’t be effective leaders. In fact, introverts can be more effective leading simply because they may be better at listening.

This is not to suggest extroverts aren’t capable of listening well. The most extroverted leaders can be excellent listeners if they avoid dominating discussions and encourage others to share their thoughts. If a leader is not giving adequate airtime to others and engaged in hearing the ideas and arguments of others, he or she is not going to encourage proactivity.

“When we select leaders, we don’t usually pick the person with the strongest leadership skills,” writes Adam Grant in his book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things. “We frequently choose the person who talks the most. It’s called the babble effect. Research shows that groups promote the people who command the most airtime—regardless of their aptitude and expertise.”

If you’re like me you may have found this to be the case in your current or previous workplace.

“We mistake confidence for competence, certainty for credibility, and quantity for quality,” continues Grant. “We get stuck following people who dominate the discussion instead of those who elevate it.”

In a research study conducted by Grant and his colleagues, they sought to examine whether extraverts were more effective leaders than introverts. He found that the ideal leadership style is actually more nuanced, and what made for effective leadership depended on how proactive a team was.

This proactivity means team members were engaged in problem solving and ideation without waiting for their leader to intervene. It means team members felt their leader had confidence in their competence and trust that they were collectively capable of coming to the best solutions.

“But when teams were proactive, bringing many ideas and suggestions to the table, it was introverts who led them to achieve greater things,” writes Grant. “The more reserved leaders came across as more receptive to input from below, which gave them access to better ideas and left their teams more motivated. With a team of sponges, the best leader is not the person who talks the most, but the one who listens best.”

Learning to actively listen is one of the most common behaviors leaders seek to improve upon in my coaching practice. Too often people mistakenly believe it’s important to speak more than listen to best demonstrate value. However, as one rises into leadership, it is more often the questions that elevate conversations and engage in greater discussions that lead to better solutions. That’s value.

This takes practice and the belief that your team has the ability to contribute effectively. By engaging each of your people and showing appreciation for their contributions, you will build confidence in their collective competence. They will then be viewed as a proactive team and you as their effective leader.

Feedforward Follows Feedback

September 27, 2023

As Millennials and Generation Z people continue to make-up a larger portion of the workforce, it’s important to evolve in how we interact and communicate. Performance reviews, for example, are largely conducted annually to deliver and hear feedback based on past performance. Feedforward is focused on future performance and about what’s next rather than what’s been.

Ideally, feedforward should follow any feedback so the person receiving the information has an immediate opportunity to course correct. This is important to all of us, but especially for those in younger generations.

While most people dislike giving or receiving feedback, feedforward information (when welcome) can be satisfying to both giver and receiver. That’s because feedforward information is based on learning, possibility, and future performance. It’s less personal and more about what the right behavior looks like going forward.

In my coaching practice, gathering and providing 360 feedback is extremely helpful for me to better understand how my clients show up at work. It provides a baseline for where they are at this time in their career. However, this is only a starting point. Effective coaching is also about providing a prescription for the path ahead. It’s about laying out a plan and help implementing that plan for how to acquire new skills, practice different behaviors and essentially improve how to better show up as leaders. That’s feedforward.

Much of coaching is rooted in helping individuals understand what they should continue doing, start doing, and stop doing based on what will help them grow as leaders. Using feedback for understanding what is and feedforward for what can be is essential for this growth.

Feedforward delivery should not be limited only to coaches as every manager and leader can and should provide this kind of direction and support to their direct reports. It is not punitive based on past performance, but directive and supportive based on what is possible and necessary.

The classic feedback sandwich comprised of giving praise, then criticism, followed by more praise can often leave employees confused and irritated. On the other hand, feedforward information enables direct reports to listen attentively and take immediate action because it’s not sandwiched around a criticism.

While feedback is often vague or too general, feedforward is specific and actionable. Feedback is likely focused on a mistake or failure, and feedforward is without criticism or judgment. And while feedback can be static as it is about a particular point in time, feedforward is about bringing about motivation for positive change.

It is ultimately the combination of providing feedback and feedforward that enables employees to thrive. That’s because it helps people learn what they should continue doing, stop doing, and start doing in a direct and supportive manner.

Perhaps most important, feedback and feedforward should not be delivered only on an annual basis at a performance review. Instead, it should be delivered as quickly as possible to provide immediate benefits. Because people are generally more comfortable providing and receiving feedforward information, this should make it much easier and less intimidating than once a year.

Incorporate feedforward in your regular feedback sessions with your direct reports because this is good for them, good for you and good for the organization.

Success in Behavioral Change

September 14, 2023

Bringing about behavioral change is often at the root of what it means to successfully lead others. This is because leading often requires helping shift the way people act to produce the desired results. Helping others to change their behavior is not always easy, but you can certainly grow to be more successful at it.

Much of my coaching work begins with data gathering where I ask probing questions of my client and the people they work with and around. This fact finding begins the process of more fully understanding the strengths and opportunities for my client to grow in their leadership.

This inquiry often reveals my client needs to improve their ability to actively listen, demonstrate empathy, build rapport, and effectively influence to bring about behavioral change in how they lead. Turns out these are the very components of the Behavioral Change Stairway Model developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to negotiate with violent felons.

The FBI hostage negotiation techniques can be just as helpful for leaders to bring about a change in the behavior in those they lead. These techniques need to be conducted in the following order so let’s look at them in detail.

  1. Actively Listen – Seek first to understand, then to be understood as author Stephen Covey wrote years ago. It’s about making the other person feel heard. And truly listen for both what is said and what is not said.
  2. Show Empathy – Join with the other person to demonstrate that you are not there to judge but to help support them as they face this situation. Put yourself in their shoes so that you can really feel and relate to them and their predicament.  
  3. Build Rapport – When rapport is present, the other person also feels your empathy, which leads to greater trust. Try to create an equal give-and-take between the two of you despite the power dynamic that is always present between a boss and employee.  
  4. Create Influence – With trust you have now earned the right to begin to offer solutions to a problem and/or recommend a course of action.   
  5. Initiate Behavioral Change – The previous four steps enable the action of initiating behavior change. Once this is initiated, it is then necessary for you to encourage and support so the change is sustained.

Demonstrating that you care personally can bring about change in a professional setting. This is true in our professional lives just as it is in our personal lives. As a leader, you need to appeal to both thoughts and feelings to change people’s behavior.

“It’s a road map for satisfying people’s social-emotional needs that nudges them toward a solution drawing on their cognitive abilities,” according to Ethan Kross, author of the book Chatter: The voice in our head, why it matters, and how to harness it. “While law-enforcement negotiators are naturally trying to defuse dangerous situations and arrest criminals, their work bears some similarities to coaching someone we care about through a problem. In both cases, there is a person who can benefit from the right kind of verbal support.”

Succeeding with behavioral change is vital for leaders. Following the steps in the Behavioral Change Stairway Model developed by the FBI for dealing with hostages can make leaders in organizations successful with bringing about behavioral change with their employees too.

Leadership includes Managing Others

August 19, 2023

Many leaders assume the people they lead no longer need to be managed. That somehow managing others at the executive level isn’t necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One might argue that you should manage things and lead people. While there is truth in this, leading people requires the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to an organization’s success. This includes managing them effectively.

Maybe you believe that once someone reaches an executive level, he or she no longer requires any oversight. There shouldn’t be further need for direction or support. For example, as a leader, do you believe:

  • Providing individual guidance and coaching people is beneath you or not worth your time?
  • You should be able to trust your direct reports to manage themselves?
  • Not knowing what your direct reports are doing keeps you from micromanaging them?

If you answered yes to these questions, then your motive for leading may be off. This is according to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Motive: Why so many leaders abdicate their most important responsibilities.

“You can either rethink your role and get more involved in coaching them around their work,” writes Lencioni, “or accept that they will often fail to meet your expectations and become misaligned with the goals of the team.”

The fact is leaders do need to manage others in the most effective manner using an approach that includes clear communication, true collaboration, and a coaching mentality. It means navigating effectively in between completely hands-off and micromanaging.

Lencioni says managing others is ultimately about helping them set the general direction of their work, ensuring that it is aligned with and understood by their peers, and staying informed enough to identify potential obstacles and problems to improve themselves behaviorally to make it more likely that they will succeed.

In his book, Lencioni describes what he calls reward-centered leadership, which is based on the belief that “being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable, free to choose what they work on and avoid anything mundane, unpleasant, or uncomfortable.” This motive for leading is mis-guided as it doesn’t provide the work necessary for the organization to thrive.

On the other hand, responsibility-centered leadership is based on the “belief that being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging (though certainly not without elements of personal gratification).” This motive is grounded in the notion that there are requirements of leadership that fall outside of what one prefers to do and that needs to be done anyway.

Managing others is vital to leading effectively and one of the five omissions of those who are reward-centric leaders, according to Lencioni. The other four omissions are developing the leadership team, having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, running great team meetings, and communicating constantly and repetitively to employees. All of these may be avoided, outsourced, or simply ignored by a leader at the organization’s peril.

Managing subordinates and ensuring that they manage theirs is central to being an effective executive. Effectively managing others is one of the elements that enable a leader to rise in an organization and this should continue no matter how high one rises. In fact, the higher one rises, the more they should recognize that it is the people around him or her that determines the success of the organization. These people require effective managing.

Embrace Debate for Sound Decisions

July 21, 2023

So often the decision-making process in the workplace can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes it’s due to simply not knowing whether the decision is made democratically or by a single person. Regardless, to make sound decisions it’s important to embrace debate among all the stakeholders able to contribute.

Leaders who practice debate in decision making not only help lead to better outcomes, but also more fully engage employees and maximize their potential.

In her book, Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, author Liz Wiseman describes Multipliers as those who “use intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of people around them. They inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations.”

Wiseman further defines Talent Magnets as those who attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity. Unlike Empire Builders, who she describes as those who hoard resources and underutilize talent, Talent Magnets enable people to work at their highest point of contribution. These Multipliers attract the best talent because people flock to work for them.

Multipliers are those who have the right people to assist in making tough decisions, and it is therefore incumbent upon them to engage this talent in the decision-making process.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do,” wrote Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: His Own Words and Wisdom. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

To practice effective debate making with your team, Wiseman describes three practices to reach sound decisions that fully engage people. These are:

  1. Frame the Issue
    1. The question: What is the decision to be made?
    1. The why: Why is this an important questions to answer?
    1. The who: Who will be involved in making the decision?
    1. The how: How will the final decision be made?
  • Spark the Debate
    • Engaging – Ask a provocative question to get everyone involved
    • Comprehension – Seek assurance that everyone understands what’s at stake
    • Fact based – Opinions are not wrong, but facts should carry more weight
    • Educational – Encourage learning throughout the process
  • Drive a Sound Decision
    • Reclarify the decision-making process
    • Make the decision
    • Communicate the decision and the rationale for it

This debate making process will lead to better outcomes no matter who and how the decision is ultimately made. It also has the added benefit of fully engaging employees and optimizing their talent and expertise, so they feel more valued and appreciated.

Make sound decisions by framing the issue and sparking the debate so that your organization and people continue to thrive.     

ABG: Always Be Growing

July 9, 2023

Many professionals finish their undergraduate or master’s degree and conclude they can rely on that institutional knowledge alone to thrive in their careers. Yet those most likely to reach personal and professional goals are always growing and learning.

This includes not only book (articles, podcast, lectures, TED Talks, etc.) learning, but also experiential learning that is available to you all the time. This means learning from setbacks by making changes, so you don’t repeat mistakes in the future. It means continually taking a “beginner’s mind” perspective so that you remain curious and open to innovation and ideas.

A huge part of this continual growth comes from knowing yourself so that you can continually recognize where you are in relation to where you want to be. Welcome both positive and critical feedback as information to help you better understand how you’re showing up.

“Become the world’s greatest expert on yourself so that you can become the very best version of yourself.” This is the advice of Greg Harden, author of the book Stay Sane in an Insane World. Harden, the executive director of athletic counseling at the University of Michigan, has a track record of working with high profile athletes including Tom Brady, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Michael Phelps and many others, who were able to use his advice to reach incredible athletic goals.

Harden’s guidance includes the idea that you should practice, train, and rehearse by giving one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. “Because if you make this your mindset, then on your absolutely worst day,” he writes, “you’re still going to be better than the average person on their best day.” Harden sees no shortcut to greatness.

This doesn’t apply only to Olympic and professional athletes. Giving one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time can be applied to everything we do on or off the field.

And all too often we can be our own worst enemy by being overly critical when we should practice self-love and self-acceptance. By doing so, we’re more likely to welcome the opportunities we face every day to learn and grow.

According to Harden, it is our attitudes and behaviors that can either support or detract from our growth. We should recognize that:

  • Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors hold you back from reaching your goals.

while . . .

  • Self-supporting attitudes and behaviors help you cultivate reaching your goals.

All too often our self-talk is critical or dismissive of our efforts. This can undermine our ability to grow. Instead, we should treat ourselves the way we would counsel and support a close friend or family member. We should be compassionate and supportive.

“Become the very best friend you ever had in your life, because your very best friend has to be you,” writes Harden.  

To always be growing means taking this advice and using it to assist you. Reduce your self-defeating attitudes and behaviors; embrace your self-supporting ones. Be your own very best friend and give one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time. Do so and you will always be growing and reaching your goals.

The Value of Values

June 22, 2023

My teenage daughter recently spoke to me about an ethical dilemma she was facing—reconciling the fact that a musical artist, whose songs she greatly enjoys has been accused of sexual misconduct. Can she still listen to his music (although not purchasing “merch” and attending concerts) while still holding true to her values?

This is increasingly becoming a concern for all consumers as we can often choose products and services from companies that align with our values and avoid those that don’t. But where do we draw the line, and can we count on what companies reveal to us?

Companies throughout the country are attempting to demonstrate their ability to maintain profitability while aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Many companies have taken on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives yet find it challenging to make this more than simply checking a box and adding new words to their website.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, organizational values need to be consistent between what is outward facing to customers and what is practiced internally by employees. These are the core values an organization currently holds as opposed to aspirational values that it is seeking to reach.

Just shy of 90 years after the USA declared independence with the promise that all men are created equal, the last enslaved Black Americans were informed that they are free. It would be another 156 years before Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday as this recent development coincided with nationwide protests following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Companies today are attempting to deal with many social concerns very differently. Oil companies find they can no longer stand on the sidelines denying our climate crisis. But many are simply  “greenwashing” to appear like they are acting in the best interests of the planet when it’s clear that they are not. Greenwashing is not new as it started in the 1960s when hotels asked their guests to reuse towels to help save the environment. Clearly these hotels were saving money on laundry costs yet never passed this savings on to their guests.

Both Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts over their marketing efforts toward the LGBTQ community. Last month Bud Light’s sales were down 23% and Target’s share price dropped 20%, although this may be partially due to concerns over inflation. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines and Lego are also facing heat for their advertising and promotions of Pride events. Clearly, customers have an impact.

To what extent should we as consumers, employees and shareholders hold corporations responsible for matching our core values? That is, of course, an individual’s decision, but our decisions can collectively have a huge influence on how corporations conduct themselves.

If these organizational values are important to where you shop, work, and invest, then it’s important to determine whether the values they publish are core values versus merely aspirational ones. It’s also important to understand whether what they preach squares with what they practice.

While it’s difficult for companies to thread the needle regarding maximizing profits with societal concerns, I believe it is exactly what we should demand from them.

Even Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote that “. . . there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable when in their efforts to increase profits they break rules, build a monopoly, or seek to deceive us. If we choose not to hold them accountable for this and our government does not regulate them, it is our collective peril.

Making the Most of Feedback

June 4, 2023

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books. It was previously posted in March 2021, but seems appropriate to post again as a good reminder.]

Leading others in the workplace requires a combination of successfully receiving and giving feedback. At a very basic level, receiving feedback is about learning what you are perceived as doing well and should continue doing; understanding what you should not do and stop doing; and learning what you don’t currently do, but should begin doing.

Similarly, to give feedback effectively, you need to state what the other person is doing well and encourage them to continue; inform them of what they should not be doing and redirect as necessary; and communicate what they need to begin doing in order to be more effective in their role. Effectively receiving and giving feedback are essential in every career, but especially when seeking to lead by example.

It’s important to look at the feedback you receive as a gift by valuing the perspectives others have for how they see you showing up in the workplace. Ideally, this would come in the form of a 360-degree feedback appraisal, so you can learn how you are perceived by people up, down and across the organization. This collective perspective provides an overall picture in how you show up. It may differ from how you perceive yourself, yet this helps you gain an external perspective to increase your overall self-awareness.

When a comment is from one individual, you should see it as an opinion; when it is from two, you should treat it as a trend; and when it is from three or more people, you should view it as factual and especially important to consider.

Don’t dismiss the positive comments as these represent your strengths that helped you reach where you are today. Embrace this positive feedback and own it as part of your overall reputation and personal brand. Receiving feedback effectively means you are able to hear and accept both positive and critical information without dismissing, overreacting or becoming defensive. Developing self-awareness is based not only on how well you can accurately see yourself, but also on how aware you are of how others see you. This can come only through feedback from others. And it’s vital you are able to receive it well, determine what it means for you, and choose to act where appropriate in order to bring about any necessary changes to help you grow.

Getting feedback can be difficult in many workplaces because it may not be embedded into a performance evaluation process. Many companies that deploy annual performance appraisals find them dreaded by both supervisors and employees, which further undermines the potential for success in receiving useful feedback.

The best organizations deliver feedback as often as quarterly in order to course correct and pivot more quickly. This enables tighter communication, so employees can more immediately take corrective action and continually improve. The 360-degree feedback method can be especially helpful, but may not be used throughout your organization or used consistently. Regardless, top-performing leaders are those who regularly seek out feedback on their performance, according to Tasha Eurich in her book Insight: The Surprising Truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“If anything, we are socially and professionally rewarded for seeking critical feedback,” says Eurich. “Leaders who do are seen as more effective, not just by their bosses, but by their peers and employees.” It’s important that you get the feedback you need in order to succeed in your role and throughout your career. Just as importantly, you need to receive it with a growth mindset so you can take appropriate action on what you get.

“If we can receive feedback with grace, reflect on it with courage, and respond to it with purpose, we are capable of unearthing unimaginable insights from the most unlikely of places,” she says.

The 3R Model

Eurich developed the 3R Model on how to best stay in control regarding surprising or difficult feedback. Using this 3R Model enables you to receive, reflect upon and respond to such feedback effectively.

  • Receive – Mine the insight potential by seeking specificity on where the particular behavior shows up and examples of when it was seen.
  • Reflect – How well do you understand the feedback? How will it affect your well-being? What affect will it have on your long-term workplace success?
  • Respond – Do you want to act on this feedback, and if so, how? Can you develop and communicate a plan for how you will go about this action?

Feedback should not be taken as judgment, but only as information that can be helpful to your growth.

“When faced with feedback in an area that plays into our self-limiting beliefs,” says Eurich, “merely taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity than the one being threatened shores up our ‘psychological immune system.’” Using the 3R Model will help you make the most of the critical feedback you receive.

If you can be courageous enough to seek feedback, be sure you are also capable of receiving it well, reflecting on what it means, and responding in a way that helps you to grow.

Trusted Leadership

May 12, 2023

Leaders are those who can be trusted. Sounds obvious but there are far too many examples of leaders in business and politics who fabricate, deceive, omit, obfuscate, or otherwise stretch fact into fiction.

As someone who thoroughly appreciates fiction in the form of novels, short stories, movies and so many streaming series, I know that verisimilitude is essential. Verisimilitude basically means “similarity to the truth,” and writers and filmmakers use a form of verisimilitude to give stories the appearance of truth to keep the reader or viewer engaged.

That’s because verisimilitude is necessary to suspend our belief and follow a character in his or her world. It is vital for the story to appear believable. Cultural verisimilitude shows up in the context of reality in the real world. For example, novels can accurately describe the real world—regardless of historical time and place.

Writers and filmmakers can make us laugh, cry, smile, or frown because of verisimilitude. We willingly except this because we want to be entertained.

When the appearance of truth is used to deceive, confuse, and otherwise manipulate us to act or vote in a particular way, it can be highly destructive. Whether it’s former President Donald Trump claiming “fake news” regarding any number of the many transgressions and lies he’s committed throughout his life or Howard Schultz, the ex-CEO of Starbucks, claiming falsely that the company has never once broken labor laws during its anti-union campaign, they are seeking to deceive us.

While public relations officers, media consultants, cable news pundits, social media commenters, and other spin doctors seek to further the deception, it’s up to each of us to seek out the truth—no matter how difficult it can be.

I consider myself a very trusting person in that I go into most situations where I trust what I’m reading, seeing, or hearing. However, when I learn that a person, organization, or entity is guilty of deception, they lose credibility for me and need to regain my trust before I’ll take them at their word again.

According to the EY Global Integrity Report 2022, there is a widening gap between higher levels of integrity awareness and lowering standards, as well as between the confidence in integrity standards displayed by companies’ leadership ranks and their employees. Yet 97% of respondents say they agree that integrity is important.

Why do we say integrity is important, yet we allow ourselves to be manipulated by people who are clearly not being honest?

Social media no doubt contributes greatly to a lack of trust. (I removed myself from both Facebook and Twitter long ago for this reason as well as others.) Social media certainly didn’t succeed in creating community and perhaps is only contributing to a nationwide loneliness epidemic. If someone you know is primarily getting their news from social media, there’s a good reason to be dubious in what they then tell you to be true.

If we are truly a nation of laws where someone is innocent until proven guilty, then we must also demand justice when someone is found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. Verisimilitude should be used for entertainment, but not for leading organizations or people. We should demand that our leaders are trustworthy. And we should hold them accountable for their actions and we should no longer support them when they lie to us. Perhaps most importantly, we should demand justice when they commit a crime

Multiplying Upwards

April 23, 2023

The best bosses raise the leadership capacity of those around them. They motivate direct reports to deliver more than they thought possible and help them grow to be more effective doing so. These multipliers also work up and across the organization to spread their impact.

On the flip side, there are bosses who diminish others’ contributions and reduce their commitment and engagement. These leaders drain intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them. They always need to be the smartest ones in the room, according to Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, who calls these people diminishers as they diminish talent and commitment.

While diminishers say “People will never figure this out without me,” multipliers say “People are smart and can figure it out.”

Apple’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs may have been speaking of multipliers when he stated: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

If you are fortunate to work for a multiplier, count yourself lucky and do what you can to continually nurture this relationship. These people amplify the intelligence and capabilities of others and inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results surpassing expectations. Multipliers multiply their impact on others. You would be wise to follow their example.

Even if you don’t report directly to a diminisher, you probably know some inside your organization. They are likely more interested in building an empire than building the talent in others. Rather than attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity, diminishers make big promises, but underutilize and reduce their engagement.

Working for a diminisher can be difficult but it doesn’t have to diminish your career. You just need a plan for how to work with them.

According to Wiseman, diminishers want to be valued for their intelligence and ideas. Many are desperate for it. In many ways, diminishers need multipliers to help them be successful. When diminishers feel smart, valued, heard, included, and trusted, they are more likely to trust in return.

Wiseman suggest the following ways to help move your contribution forward with those otherwise good people who fail at being a good boss. When you work for a diminisher, you can multiply up.

  1. Exploit your boss’s strengths. Instead of trying to change your boss, focus on trying to utilize his or her knowledge and skills in service of the work you’re doing. Don’t give up ownership but use his or her capabilities at key milestones and in ways they can be helpful.
  2. Give them a user’s guide. Broadcast your capabilities and help your colleagues pick up the signal. Or you can simply tell people what you are good at and how you can be best used. If you want to work at your highest point of contribution, you need to let people know your value.
  3. Listen to learn. Diminishers want to be heard and remember you can learn something from anyone. Look for common ground and ask questions that help your boss weigh both the upsides and downsides of his or her ideas.
  4. Admit your mistakes. Talk frankly about mistakes and what you’ve learned from them. This demonstrates accountability, which can bring greater trust.
  5. Sign up for a stretch. Let your boss know when you’re ready and able to take on a new challenge above and beyond the scope of your role. Or ask your manager what work you can take off his or her plate.
  6. Invite them to the party. Invite your diminisher boss to your team meetings to witness your brilliance as well as to contribute while not allowing them to take control of the meeting.

Rather than continually battle with your diminisher boss, seek ways to improve the relationship so that it works better. This is about exercising your multiplier behavior by multiplying upwards.

Leading Your Boss

April 11, 2023

If you’re like most people, you have a boss who greatly influences your job satisfaction, learning and development, career advancement and overall well-being in the workplace. And it is your responsibility to lead your boss to make this relationship work best.

Your boss is very likely the gatekeeper for continued growth and promotion opportunities. In fact, according to a McKinsey study, the relationship with your boss is two times more critical for career success than any other workplace relationship. No one has greater direct impact over your career other than you.

In the same way you shouldn’t leave your health up to your doctor, don’t leave job satisfaction and career advancement entirely up to your boss. Accepting this means doing what you can to make this a solid and successful partnership.

Working from home during the pandemic likely shifted how you interact with your colleagues and direct supervisor. With a return to the office at least part of the time, you should choose to make the most of in-person one-on-one time with your boss.

Managing upward is not about sucking up or simply doing what you are told. It is not about being totally deferential nor is it about resisting all the time. Leading your boss means building a solid partnership to benefit them, yourself, and the organization.

“Being held in high regard by your boss is one of the most powerful forms of influence and visibility you can wield,” writes Scott Mautz in his book Leading from the Middle: A playbook for managers to influence up, down, and across the organization. Mautz provides a step-by-step method proven with over 30 years of research and experience on how to build a solid partnership with your boss. These steps include:

  1. Nature Before Nurture – This is about understanding that this relationship is interdependent between the two of you. Your boss needs you and you need your boss.
  2. Understand the Asks – What does success look like?  What goals are important and why? What should I start, stop, and continue doing to succeed? Are my priorities consistent with yours?
  3. Style Awareness – You are responsible for adjusting your style to your boss. Things such as decision-making, conflict, formality, behavior, and others need to be evaluated on how well yours align with your boss.
  4. Get Personal – Express interest in them by seeking to understand their motivations, pressures, aspirations, superpowers, pet peeves, etc. to build rapport, and then reward their candor with discretion to build and maintain trust.
  5. Your House in Order – Manage yourself well by ensuring that you are managing your team and your work well. This includes delivering results, knowing the business, and ensure you’re bringing the attitude you want reciprocated.
  6. Purposeful Support – “The support you offer should be intentional about the why and how to make your spirit of servitude more meaningful,” says Mautz. These include providing information, capacity, decision-making, problem solving and advocating to foster a strong partnership with your boss.

Each of these steps is essential and shouldn’t be glossed over as they are integral to making yourself a true thought partner and confidant with your boss. The stronger this partnership, the greater will be your influence and opportunities to grow and thrive.  

Leadership Begins with Integrity

March 30, 2023

Think of an outstanding leader. He or she is likely charismatic, effective and a great communicator. And no matter who you’re thinking of, this leader very likely demonstrates integrity as part of their character. Without integrity, there can be no great leader.

Leadership takes many forms and is defined in different ways. But to become a great leader, there needs to be a foundation of integrity above and beyond all else.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway with a current net worth of $104 billion, has had a long and successful career demonstrating integrity. He also promises to give away 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropic causes.

“We look for three things when we hire people,” said Buffett. “We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.” In other words, don’t hire anyone without integrity.

Integrity is about the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It’s about doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Those with integrity are the people you want to surround yourself with—both in the workplace and in your personal life.

When I was interviewed for one of my first professional jobs, the president of the company told me he was looking for two characteristics in the people they hire: integrity and a sense of urgency. Years later, after leaving the company, I discovered how rare it was to find both characteristics in the people I worked with at other companies.

Many use the word “integrity” indiscriminately when describing the values that are important to them or to spice up their resume. But integrity is less about what people claim in words and more about what they demonstrate in their behavior. “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do,” wrote James Baldwin. Your actions speak louder than your words, as the saying goes.

The best leaders are those who continually demonstrate integrity in the way they conduct themselves and they demand it in those they hire.

Integrity is revealed in character traits such as being responsible, honest, respectful, and trustworthy. It shows up in expressing gratitude for other people.

Those with integrity, model it by:

  • Taking responsibility for their actions
  • Treating everyone with respect
  • Seeking to learn at every opportunity
  • Remaining humble regardless of their position
  • Being accountable always
  • Helping others without expecting something in return

Think of leaders in your own workplace. Do they model this behavior? The ones who do are those you should emulate if you want to continue to grow as a leader yourself. If you can’t find someone within your company, seek to find one in another company who you can model yourself after. And maybe consider moving on to another company where you’ll find leaders with integrity.

In the workplace, you can demonstrate your own integrity by:

  • Doing what you say you will do—be dependable and follow through on your commitments.
  • Communicating in a way that is transparent and true to your word.
  • Owning up to your mistakes and holding yourself accountable.

These three things will help you to grow in your leadership capacity. They will also help you demonstrate that you are a person with integrity. And nothing will propel your career more than demonstrating integrity in all your behavior.

Purpose, Then Respect

February 13, 2023

Leaders with a clear sense of purpose are far more likely to be effective and gain the respect of those they lead. Seeking to gain respect prior to communicating a clear sense of purpose is misguided and unlikely to succeed.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “Men Need Purpose more than ‘Respect,’” David French wrote about the crisis in the rise in suicides, drug overdoses and education achievement gaps for men in America. Some men claim they feel disrespected because women are not treating them the way men were back in the 1950s. French contends that men need to find purpose before they can find respect. And that this “quest for respect can sometimes undermine the sense of purpose that will help make them whole.”

“What men need is not for others to do things for them, wrote French. “They need to do things for others: for spouses, for children, for family and friends and colleagues.” 

I couldn’t help but think how this idea of purpose before respect applies to both men and women in leadership positions in the workplace. You can’t get hired or promoted into a leadership position and simply demand respect. Respect needs to be earned. Unless you’re in the military or another government position where respect is more of a command, it’s necessary to demonstrate that you are worthy of respect in all your interactions.

To do this it takes an ability to clearly articulate where you are going and instill confidence in people that you are the right person to lead them. The way you show up can greatly determine your influence. How you show up includes your integrity, humility, empathy, and communication style. By articulating your purpose and modeling the behaviors you want to see in your people, you are acting in a way others will then respect.

“Virtuous purpose is worth more than any other person’s conditional and unreliable respect,” continues French. “It is rooted in service and sacrifice, not entitlement. What we do for others is infinitely more rewarding than what we ask them to do for us.”

This is essentially the model of servant leadership, which was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he wrote in 1970. Servant leadership is grounded in the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others rather than accrue power or take control. These others can be customers, partners, fellow employees, or the community.  

Leaders who demonstrate servant leadership include such luminaries as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s hard to imagine any of these great leaders without a clear sense of purpose.

Whether you are in a leadership position now or striving to get into one, keep in mind that respect needs to be earned. It won’t come automatically with a new job title. Instead, you need to model the behaviors that deserve respect, and then articulate a sense of purpose so people feel you can effectively lead them. When others feel you are an effective leader, you will receive well-earned respect.

Leadership is Jacinda Ardern

January 27, 2023

So often I write about corporate leaders who deliver bottom-line results to meet shareholder expectations, while demonstrating leadership principles that respect employees and customers. Today I want to highlight a politician who during her tenure demonstrated extraordinary leadership and elevated what is possible in this time of political turmoil.

In 2017 at the age of 37, Jacinda Ardern became the youngest prime minister in New Zealand’s history, and this week she resigned because she said it was time.

“I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

She certainly faced headwinds due to New Zealand’s economic turndown, but the abuse and threats she received had to weigh into her decision. Ardern also had a baby while in office and she stated wanting to be more involved in her daughter’s life was important as well.

“For my part, I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job—of New Zealand and New Zealanders, has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said. “That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me.”

Ardern accomplished a great deal while in office including:

  • Delivered a world-leading response to COVID-19 by closing New Zealand’s borders
  • Promoted unity and compassion after the March 2019 mosque terrorist attack
  • Introduced key policies to lift the wellbeing of children and families
  • Introduced a new public holiday to celebrate Matarik—the start of the Māori New Year
  • Took action on climate change by leading towards a zero carbon future
  • Launched New Zealand’s first Wellbeing Budget
  • Being the first prime minister to march in a Pride parade
  • Fought to close the gender pay gap

What I find most remarkable is what she stated in her final address regarding her legacy perhaps pointing to a direction other world leaders should take.

“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go,” Ardern said.

I can think of many world leaders who should take this to heart when weighing how to lead a country and when to exit a political career. The majority of U.S. citizens reported in a recent poll that they would prefer a candidate other than Joe Biden or Donald Trump to run for President in 2024. Even my 92-year-old mother can’t see how an octogenarian or septuagenarian can have enough left in the tank for such an important job.  

“Women know when to step down … their egos are lower,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organization Director-General. She went on to say that Ardern set an example by stepping down after giving her best.

Jacinda Ardern is a remarkable leader. I’m hopeful more men and women will follow her exemplary leadership.

All About Managers

January 6, 2023

The CEO is where we typically focus when we evaluate a particular company, which makes sense given that this is the leader with the biggest impact on the organization’s success or failure—at least in terms of profitability. However, when it comes to getting work done and employees being engaged, it’s all about managers.

Managers are the ones who execute the strategy, deliver products or services, and ensure that the overall objectives are carried out. Managers are also the ones with the biggest impact on employees and greatly determine whether they are fully engaged or not.

According to a 2017 Gallop report titled “State of the Global Workplace,” companies in the top quartile in employee engagement deliver 17 percent better productivity and 21 percent more profitability than those in the bottom. To improve employee engagement, look no further than the manager.

Former managing director for Gallup’s Global Leadership Advisory, Larry Emond, said “the manager explains 70 percent of engagement.” Better engagement is a function of better management, and worse engagement is a function of worse management.

“People need clear expectations, the autonomy to craft and pursue their agendas, support to achieve success, and help thinking about their careers,” writes Russ Laraway in his book When They Win, You Win: Being a great manager is simpler than you think. “Three important words managers use that demonstrate they care about the people: time, help, success. Take time to help people be more successful.”

According to Laraway, managers must provide three things: direction, coaching and career. By focusing on helping their people win, managers win too.

Direction – Setting the direction anchors the team to an aligned result through a combination of purpose and vision (long-term), and OKRs and ruthless prioritization (short-term). Setting direction ensures people know both the what and the why things need to get done, provides clear measures for what results look like, and a shared understanding of the most important tasks of the day, week, or quarter.

Coaching – Coaching is about encouraging people to change what’s not working and continue doing what is working. The first involves giving feedback in a way that is supportive; the second involves helping people explicitly understand what they have done well so they can do more of it. Neither of these should be considered micro-managing but instead are about keeping a close eye on what is happening to immediately correct when things go off-track and to encourage and praise when things are going well.

Career – Managers should do more than help employees succeed in the job at hand. They must also assist people in discovering a long-term vision for their careers and show them what actions they can take right now that enables tangible progress toward it. In doing so, managers can show employees that they care for them above and beyond the immediate work and current organization. Managers can demonstrate that they value their people more than simply as employees.

Laraway, a former executive at Google and Twitter as well as co-founder and COO at Radical Candor, says managers whose teams are most engaged, and whose organizations produce the best results, are able to systematically:

  • Create a culture of candor
  • Actively prioritize
  • Respond to ideas and concerns
  • Establish explicit expectations
  • Support growth and development

All of these are likely to increase engagement because they extend beyond typical company perks or benefits. They are about the behavior of managers leading the work.

To improve any company, look no further than the managers within it. Hiring and retaining the best managers makes business sense because good managers are those who develop engaged employees resulting in measurably superior results.

Team Advantage of Strategic Offsites

December 8, 2022

On the cusp of a new year many organizations are currently scheduling offsites for senior executives to review strategic goals and devise execution plans for the coming year. Healthy organizations who encourage their leaders to embrace each other as vital teammates will be the most successful.

All too often offsites fail to deliver solid results because leaders bring forth plans that are focused on individuals and their departments. This can inadvertently reward silo building and allow for competition of resources that ultimately undermines company-wide success. Rather than building a unified team and doing what’s right for the organization, individual egos, reputations, and ambitions become the primary focus.

Any successful strategic offsite should begin with ensuring everyone feels psychologically safe to speak freely. Each person should trust that they can do the right thing for the right reasons. And all participants ought to feel like they are an important component of a highly functional team, and that the organization will succeed only with everyone working effectively together.

Before beginning any offsite, ensure that there is a foundation of trust and rapport. If this needs to be established or strengthened, this should be the number one priority. Though it takes time and energy, and some may see it as unnecessary, nothing is more important. Without trust, there can be little progress.

Vulnerability should also be encouraged and modeled by the most senior leader so others can show up more fully and authentically. This will set the tone for how everyone shows up.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, author Patrick Lencioni recommends a Team Effectiveness Exercise that can be especially helpful.

“Do this at the end of an off-site meeting once there is a decent foundation of trust,” writes Lencioni. “If team members aren’t capable of being vulnerable with one another, there is no point in doing it.”

Team Effectiveness Exercise

  1. Have each person write down one thing that each of the other team members does that makes the team better. It should be the biggest strength as it pertains to the impact on the group. Not technical skills but the way they behave when the team is together that makes the team stronger.

  2. Do the same thing except this time focus on one aspect of each person that sometimes hurts the team. Provide 10 to 15 minutes for this.

  3. Beginning with the leader, go around the room asking everyone to report on the person’s one positive characteristic. Let the person respond after everyone has finished. Now go around again offering the one characteristic that the person needs to work on. Allow for a reaction after everyone has gone. Then do this for the next person until everyone is complete. Should take only about 10 minutes per person.

This type of exercise requires trust and psychological safety to execute well. It can dramatically strengthen a team by making each member feel more supported by and accountable to the others on the team.

“The greatest impact is the realization on the part of leadership team members that holding one another accountable is a survivable and productive activity, and it will make them likely to continue doing it going forward,” continues Lencioni.

Lencioni does an excellent job of illustrating this in his earlier book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I highly recommend.

Plan on making your next strategic offsite meeting one that is focused on the team. The whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts, but requires ensuring there is psychological safety, trust, and rapport. And it means the courage to be vulnerable with each other for the sake of strengthening your relationships and team performance.

Embracing Failure

November 12, 2022

The road to success is paved with failure. You cannot succeed if you don’t fail along the way and are able to learn from those setbacks. The fact is no one succeeds unless they first embrace failure, learn from it, and try again and again.

Looking back over my career, I recall failures big and small that undermined my confidence and stalled my ability to get a job and get promoted more quickly. Some of these failures I blamed on other people, some I attributed to circumstances beyond my control. Ultimately, I failed to accept my responsibility for what happened and what I could do differently next time by learning from the experience.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career,” said Michael Jordan. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Choose any successful person—no matter the field—and I suspect they can recount a series of obstacles that they needed to overcome before they reached their goals. Here are a few famous failures.

  • Albert Einstein – Failed to speak until age 4; at age 16, he failed to be admitted into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school; graduated from college but struggled in classes so much that he considered dropping out; sold insurance door to door for two years before joining the patent office examining applications for various devices. Finally, he went on to develop the fundamental core laws governing physics, won the Nobel Prize and created the beginnings of quantum theory.
  • J.K. Rowling – At 17 she failed to be accepted at Oxford University; at 25 her mother died of Multiple Sclerosis, leaving her extremely distraught and upset; she found work with Amnesty International and then taught English; after the breakup of a difficult marriage with a young child at the age of 38, she moved in with her sister; diagnosed as clinically depressed and suicidal yet she completed the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After getting rejected by the 12 major publishing houses, a small literary house took a chance on the book, which led Rowling to be the first author to become a billionaire through book writing.  
  • Oprah Winfrey – As a young child living with her mother and younger sister, she was sexually molested by an uncle, cousin and a family friend; she ran away at 13, became pregnant at 14 and give birth prematurely to a child who died soon after birth; after a short stint as co-anchor for a news organization in Baltimore, she was fired for being “unfit for television.” At 29 she was hired at AM Chicago, a show that ultimately became the Oprah Winfrey Show, and is now a world-famous multi-billionaire.
  • Abraham Lincoln – At age 23 he lost his job, ran for the state legislature and lost; at age 26 the love of his life died; at 29 he lost his bid to become Speaker in the Illinois House of Representatives; at 39 he failed in his bid to become Commissioner of the General Land Office in D.C.; ten years later he failed to win a seat as a U.S. Senator. Then, at the age of 52, he was elected President of the United States and became one of the most famous failures to ever hold the high office in the United States. 

Failure is not the opposite of success, but an essential step towards it. Embrace your failure as it provides the vital information necessary for learning to succeed. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you reach success.

New Boss = New Opportunity

October 14, 2022

The pandemic led many people to change jobs, get promoted or otherwise been assigned a new boss. Regardless, if this was the case for you, it’s important to quickly get aligned and make the most of the opportunity with this new relationship.  

Perhaps what’s most important with a new boss is to be proactive in understanding their perspective, how they like to communicate and how you can be successful with them. As quickly as possible, strive to establish trust and build rapport. Don’t simply allow for the work to speak for itself, but instead begin building a solid reputation of who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what you’re capable of doing.

Remote work certainly altered how we interact with a new boss, but if you are returning to the office—even in a hybrid fashion—it’s important to re-establish rapport and interact face-to-face as much as possible to ensure you are aligned.

Focusing on the fundamentals is critical in building a productive relationship with your new boss, according to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  

When it comes to working with a new boss, Watkins suggests not doing these things:

  • Don’t stay away – Get on your boss’s calendar regularly and ensure you are in close communication.
  • Don’t surprise your boss – Ensure your boss knows problems well in advance with regular updates so they gain confidence in your ability to deliver results.
  • Don’t approach your boss only with problems – Give some thought to potential solutions so your boss has something to react to rather than resolve on his or her own.
  • Don’t run down your checklist – Assume your boss wants to focus on the most important things you’re trying to do and how he or she can help.
  • Don’t expect your boss to change – It’s your responsibility to adapt to your boss’s style: regardless of how you interacted with your previous boss.

Watkins recommends doing the following with your new boss:

  • Clarify expectations early and often – Don’t make assumptions based on what your prior boss wanted but make it clear what he or she is expecting from you.
  • Take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work – Don’t wait for your boss to adjust to you, but instead adjust to him or her.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning – Ensure that you are aligned on milestones and key delivery dates.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to the boss – Make your impact quickly so you can earn your boss’s confidence in your ability.
  • Pursue good marks from those who opinions your boss respects – This means shoring up your reputation with other leaders who influence your boss.

These reminders can go a long way towards building a solid relationship with the person most influential with accelerating or decelerating your career opportunities. This is an investment that will pay huge dividends and shouldn’t be minimized.

Further, think of how you can establish a relationship where you’re treated as a thought partner. That means thinking about the challenges your boss is facing and how you can best support him or her.

Every time you get a new boss, think of this as a new opportunity for you to grow in your leadership and in your career. Take a proactive approach and take responsibility for it. You’ll likely enjoy your job more and make greater progress.  

Wisdom of Peter Drucker

June 18, 2022

Nobody embodies my philosophy of leadership more than the late great management consultant Peter Drucker. And his notion of “serving the common good” distinguishes him from the “greed is good” mantra that guided so many companies in the previous century.

According to Drucker’s theory, business leaders need to embrace the “spirit of performance” by displaying high levels of moral and ethical integrity in their actions. These actions should be focused on results, empowering employees, going beyond financial obligations to shareholders, and ultimately serving the common good. He focused on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Although this may seem idealistic and perhaps Pollyannish today, Drucker’s theory should serve as a north star where business leaders should aim if they want to be successful in the long run. I deliberately provide this caveat because all too many leaders are focused narrowly on the current share price and the next quarterly earnings call. This is often because they are measured far too strictly by these short-term financial results above and beyond all else.

The man largely credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” back in 1959, Drucker stated that “knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” He wasn’t just speaking of leaders, but all knowledge workers.

If we take away only one thing from formal education, we should embrace the idea of lifelong learning. Be it high school, college, or graduate school, it’s vital to continually seek out new information, especially when it challenges our current thinking. Confirmation bias is easily achieved by tuning into our favorite media echo chamber, social media group or a simple Google search. What’s hard is seriously considering alternative perspectives and staying open to different ideas.

My favorite and most often repeated Druckerism is “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Leadership is about continually questioning and confirming whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do. Peter Drucker once wrote that the leader of the past knew how to tell, but the leader of the future will know how to ask. The further you rise into leadership, the more important are the questions you raise.

With regard to decision making and influence, Drucker stated the following:

  1. Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.
  2. If we need to influence someone in order to make a positive difference, that person is our customer and we are the salesperson.
  3. Our customer does not need to buy; we need to sell.
  4. When we are trying to sell, our personal definition of what value is far less important than our customer’s definition of value.
  5. We should focus on the areas where we can actually make a positive difference. Sell what we can sell and change what we can change. Let go of what we cannot sell or change.

In my work as an executive coach, these five ideas are especially relevant for many of my clients to embrace if they want to increase their effectiveness as a leader.

The idea of “serving the common good” may have been disregarded by many organizations, but it is now embraced by companies who don’t see shareholder value at the expense of all the other stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, and customers. Increasing shareholder value can be coupled with increasing stakeholder value.

Even the famous free market economist Milton Freidman, who wrote the New York Times Magazine article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” that shaped business practice for the past 50 years, would question many of the disreputable behavior of companies today. This is because Freidman also wrote about the “respect for ethical custom,” which doesn’t get much attention. By this he meant that if theft against the shareholder is wrong, then so is theft for the shareholder. Such theft could be in the form of companies abusing their power or depleting collectively owned resources (air quality, water quality, communities, etc.) without compensating owners.

Clearly companies who embrace serving the common good as a corporate value are much more likely to attract Millennials and Gen Zers, who are looking for their careers to be more than simply creating wealth for shareholders. The same is true for customers who, when faced with a choice, will choose brands that exemplify who they are and what they value.

Peter Drucker’s wisdom is embraced by leaders who will be successful going forward. And that’s good for their companies, employees, customers, communities, and the environment.

Threshold of an Opportunity

June 3, 2022

The fractured discourse in society over race, abortion, guns, politics, public health, and many other things threatens the fabric of what makes this country so great. We used to respectfully disagree and continue to be united as citizens. Now we are dangerously polarized. Where once we could compromise, now there is only me or you, win or lose.

E Pluribus Unum translates as “out of many, one.” This is emblazed across the scroll clenched in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States and originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation. Today there are Red states and Blue states.

We are in a liminal space: between what is and what is to come. The word liminal translates from the Latin word “limi,” which means threshold. Our society may be leaving one way of life behind and transitioning to something altogether different.

Businesses are facing a liminal space too. How do they entice employees to return to the workplace? The great resignation has morphed into workers demanding more control over when and where they do the work. Leaders are challenged to find a way.

“A leader’s primary role is to create the future,” says Mark Miller, author of Smart Leadership: Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact. “Our vision for the future should never be an extension of the present or a return to the past. Normal is the realm of a manager who sees his or her role as controlling what is. The leader, by contrast, doesn’t want to control—she seeks to release the potential of her people and her organization. There is nothing normal about a preferred future. Without the liminal space, escaping normalcy is unlikely, and so is a better tomorrow.”

It is important for leaders to see this liminal space as an opportunity. Reflect on the changing times and the abundance of possibilities for those who embrace rather than resist it. Create a vision for the future. Release the potential of your people and of the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a recognition that a change in the workplace is necessary. Consider the rise of union organization, demand for accountability on climate change, #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.

Many corporations may have to: shift from overly rewarding CEOs and shareholders at the expense of employees and customers; challenge the assumption that the reason for all white males on the leadership team and boardrooms is because there aren’t qualified woman and people of color; provide a ROWE (Results Only Work Ethic) environment where only the work results are measured and not the time in an office cubicle.

Look at this liminal space not simply as a time to address problems but to embrace the opportunities.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems,” wrote Peter Drucker, author of The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. “Nowhere is this more important than in respect to people. The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.”

At this threshold between what was and what will be, leaders must courageously embrace what is possible and move forward. This liminal space is the launching pad for transforming the old ways of working to meet the new challenges of today. Our future depends on it.